LOS ANGELES, Feb 24 — If you go down to the movie theatre Friday, you’re sure of a big, angry, drug-fuellled surprise.
Cocaine Bear, the new comedy-horror from Universal Pictures, hopes to shake up Hollywood with its very loosely based-on-a-true-story tale of a giant, wild bear who overdosed on narcotics.
“We like to take insane ideas really seriously,” joked co-producer Aditya Sood, at the film’s Los Angeles premiere this week.
“So Cocaine Bear — it’s hard to beat that one.”
The movie is inspired by a real-life incident in 1985, when packages of cocaine were airdropped by smugglers in a southern US forest and later consumed by a 175-pound black bear.
The real bear, quickly dubbed “Pablo Escobear” by the press, sadly died from an overdose — but the movie imagines what might have happened if it had instead developed a taste for cocaine and gone on a wild killing spree to procure more.
Writer Jimmy Warden took his idea to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the acclaimed producing duo behind hits like The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, who in turn took it to Universal.
One of Hollywood’s biggest and oldest studios, Universal is known for its broad, diverse slate, ranging from last Christmas’s R-rated hit Violent Night to the upcoming, prestigious Christopher Nolan drama Oppenheimer.
Analysts say the studio is banking on its provocative, unorthodox premise to stand out from the typical fare on offer at theatres, where superhero films reign supreme and comedies have tended to flop in recent years.
“They’re not going for the mainstream audiences — they are going for people who like edgy, out-there movies, who want to have some fun at the movie theatre,” said Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
“Just on the face of it, when you look at the name of the movie... the tagline ‘Get In Line’... it has a very independent, edgy spirit to it.”
The movie’s trailer has been watched 16 million times on YouTube, and the bear protagonist has its own Twitter account with viral posts such as: “I’m the bear who ate cocaine. This is my story.”
Unsurprisingly, the film has provoked some controversy.
Marty Makary, a prominent US public health expert and author, said he was “disappointed” to see Hollywood “once again sensationalise cocaine” by “portraying cocaine use as fun and funny.”
“We should all be offended by entertainment that makes light of drugs that are ripping apart our country,” he said on Twitter.
Elizabeth Banks, the Hunger Games actress who has previously gone behind the camera for Pitch Perfect 2 and the 2019 Charlie’s Angels reboot, directs the film.
She told AFP she had been inspired to make the film after reading the script at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a time she described as “the most chaotic human history moment in hundreds of years.”
“I felt like there was no greater metaphor for the chaos that we were all feeling in 2020 than a bear high on cocaine.”
“It was so crazy and so fun and so wild that I just thought, why shouldn’t we do this movie right now?” added star Keri Russell.
“It’s like, complete escape.” — AFP